School District Refuses Atheist Demand to Dissolve Pastor-Led Program as Offering Has No Religious Content

KOUTS, Ind. — A school district in Indiana has refused a professing atheist group’s request that it dissolve a pastor-led program during the lunch period after investigating the matter and finding that no religious instruction is provided during the offering.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent a letter to the East Porter County School Corporation earlier this month after it had reportedly been contacted by several parents of students who attend Kouts Middle/High School. The parents advised that two pastors from Heartland Christian Church have been leading the voluntary program “Elevate” during lunchtime.

“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious leaders access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property,” the letter read. “No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors—a captive audience—in a public school. This predatory conduct is inappropriate and should raise red flags.”

FFRF further contended that the fact that the program is voluntary does not alleviate the constitutional infirmities.

“The district cannot allow its schools to be used for religious instruction during the school day,” the correspondence asserted. “We write to request assurances that this practice be stopped immediately.”

However, according to the Christian Post and the Independent Journal Review, Superintendent Rod Gardin responded to FFRF on Tuesday to advise the atheist activist group that it had mischaracterized the Elevate program.

“In response to your assertion that the school corporation is allowing religious instruction to occur during the school day at Kouts Middle/High School through the Elevate Students program, I analyzed the curriculum used in the program,” he wrote. “There is no religious content in the curriculum. There are no Bible verses, references to any spiritual deity, or any activities that expose students to any religious concepts.”

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Gardin also outlined that none of the videos that are shown to students who choose to attend Elevate contain any religious references. He noted that the program teaches character qualities to youth, but from a nonsectarian standpoint.

“I spoke with the facilitator of the program, Matt Willingham. Mr. Willingham confirmed that no verses from any type of religious text are used,” Gardin added. “He added that he would be happy to meet with any parent or group of parents who would like to know more about Elevate Students.”

The superintendent therefore requested that FFRF remove the erroneous information from its website and replace it with an apology.

“It’s unfathomable that public school officials are permitting pastors to come in and sermonize to an essentially captive audience of school kids trying to eat lunch,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor had said in a statement, which is still posted to the group’s press release section. “Surely, they have to know that this is completely inappropriate under the law.”

As previously reported, in 1828, just 52 years after the nation’s founding, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”


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  • Jeffrey

    I wonder how accomodating the school might be if Muslims, for example, wanted to run a similar program?

    • Arlenj

      Exactly! Why is this concept so hard for some to understand?

  • Michael C

    It’s voluntary, but the Fanatical Flakes say it’s “unconstitutional.”

    People that vicious must be awfully unhappy.

    • Rookheight

      I guess by “Fanatical Flakes” you mean the U.S. Supreme Court? It’s justices, including most of the conservative Christian ones, have consistently held, since 1948, that voluntariness doesn’t excuse an Establishment Clause violation.

  • Michael C

    It’s nice that this outside religious group that is given access to other people’s children at a public school isn’t violating the Constitution but it seems rather odd that a public school would grant an outside religious group access to children during the school day while in the trusted care of the school.

    If I was a school administrator and was approached by a Mormon, Scientologist, or Jehovah’s Witness group that wanted access to other people’s children during school hours to teach them “character qualities,” I would tell those groups to take a hike.

    • Kevin Canuckster

      But if it was an atheist group would you welcome them in?

      • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

        Some say he is an Atheist.

        • Michael C

          I’m not sure that I’d be considered an atheist. What is your definition of the word?

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            I said ((some)) say you are one.I’m not the one who said it. (But), the two who knows for sure are both you and God. I can’t remember who all said it or I’d tell you to talk to them not me………

          • Michael C

            I don’t consider myself an atheist but you might. I’d be glad to answer any question you may have so you don’t need to rely on what these nameless (and possibly imaginary) “others” might be saying about me.

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            Please reread what I said to you. Please try to comprehend what I said to you. Thank you.

          • Michael C

            If you’d like to know something about me, feel free to ask. That’s all I’m saying.

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            I do not believe you and I do not trust you. You were just trying to call me a liar.

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            P.S.I see you called me a liar in a round about way.

          • Michael C

            I said ((some)) say you are i.e.

            What’s with the double parentheses? I’ve only ever seen multiple parentheses surround specific words from alt-right people when making anti-Semitic references.

            If this is not your intention, you may want to stop surrounding certain words with multiple parentheses. Others may mistake your comments as anti-Semitism.

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            Now you are accusing me of being “Antisemitism? Do NOT EVER RESPOND TO ME AGAIN!

            Shalom!!

          • Michael C

            I absolutely am not accusing you of anti-Semitism. If I was doing something that looked even vaguely anti-Semitic, I would want someone to give me the heads up. That’s all I was doing for you. It was a courtesy.

            I don’t think you’re anti-Semetic. That’s why I wanted to let you know about the multiple parentheses.

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            I’ll stop using the ((( ))) But I still do not trust you.

          • Michael C

            I’ll stop using the ((( ))) in stead I will use ” ” But I still do not trust you. I am deleting all that posted to you. but this one and one other one. You made me feel very bad.

            I’m sorry for making you feel bad. That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to know why you were calling me an atheist behind my back. I didn’t think it was an insult, I just didn’t understand why you thought I was an atheist. I was just trying to understand but you reacted to me as if I was your enemy or something.

          • ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            Wow………………….. 🙁
            Sigh hakes head…………. You are a very unkind person. What you did shows what kind of a person you really are. Unkind and disrespectful.

            And your mocking me is a show of disrespect and unkindness to me.
            Tell you what, Since you enjoy mocking me as well as other people. I will do you a favor ans myself a favor.

            I am going to BLOCK YOU. This way you can now mock me all you want. 23/7 both day and night. And I won’t have to to see your unkindness and disrespect.

            This is a what do you call?………….. Oh yes ……….. It’s a win/win. Both of us wins and nobody loses. Good for for as you can be unkind and disrespectful all you want. And I’ll never know .
            ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

          • Michael C

            Wow………………….. 🙁
            Sigh hakes head…………. You are a very unkind person. What you did shows what kind of a person you really are. Unkind and disrespectful.

            And your mocking me is a show of disrespect and unkindness to me.
            Tell you what, Since you enjoy mocking me as well as other people. I will do you a favor ans myself a favor.

            I am going to BLOCK YOU. This way you can now mock me all you want. 23/7 both day and night. And I won’t have to to see your unkindness and disrespect.

            This is a what do you call?………….. Oh yes ……….. It’s a win/win. Both of us wins and nobody loses. Good for for as you can be unkind and disrespectful all you want. And I’ll never know .
            ♥LadyInChrist♥InGodITrust♥

            I wish this conversation would have gone better. I’m sorry you see me as your enemy.

      • Michael C

        If I was a school administrator, I wouldn’t give any outside group access to children during the school day on school property unless it was an officially sponsored school event.

        So no, I wouldn’t let volunteers from FFRF (for example) enter the school to talk to the kids even if the the content of the program was unrelated to religion (or the lack thereof) and even if the kids’ participation was voluntary.

        • Rookheight

          I share your suspicion, and I think others should be suspicious anytime a youth pastor wants to talk to public school kids about “character building.” But at the same time, it seems wrong to ban someone from volunteering at the school simply because they are very religious (or because they are an atheist activist). If they can really keep that part of it out of their interaction with the public school, which I highly doubt happened in this case, I don’t think they should be kept out.

  • bowie1

    The FFRF are a dense lot since they can’t even seem to understand that this pastor is not offering any religious instruction at all according to what school officials say here. What part of that don’t they understand?

    • Croquet_Player

      The FFRF was responding to complaints from parents. The article does not elaborate on what the parents may have reported to the FFRF.

      • bowie1

        Still, why should one complaint take priority over what all others are okay with?

        • Croquet_Player

          It doesn’t “take priority”. The FFRF responds to complaints from parents, students, teachers, etc., when they are alerted to possible constitutional violations. Either there is a violation, or there isn’t. Also, if there is a violation, it doesn’t matter how many parents or students are “okay” with it. It’s still against the law.

        • Rookheight

          Civil rights, including the First Amendment, exist to protect minorities. It doesn’t matter if 99% of people are okay with it.

      • I doubt any did. Even so, the nasty lies posted on their FFRF website were slanderous to the teacher of the course, the superintendent, and the school. These clowns definitely owe them ALL an apology. Such idots.

        • Croquet_Player

          The FFRF has no way of knowing what is going on in the many thousands of public schools. They hear about possible violations from parents, students, teachers, or local community individuals. It’s still unclear what the final outcome of this situation will be. One school administrator has responded that there is no constitutional violation. He may be correct, or he may not. Until he, and/or the volunteer group involved produces the materials the group is using for review, it’s impossible to evaluate thoroughly.

          • They are ambulance chasers. They come in uninvited most of the time, just like they came into my town.

            We sent them packing.

            There is clearly no violation. At some point we have to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes.

    • We need freedom and relief from the FFRF.

      Lousy ambulance chasers just looking for any opportunity to exploit, in order to further their intolerant anti Christian agenda.